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California grants permit to Cruise for passenger rides in driverless vehicles

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The California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) said Friday (pdf) it has authorized General Motors-owned self-driving vehicle company Cruise to provide driverless passenger service to the public in its robotaxis.

The CPUC said Cruise is the first entrant in its driverless pilot program, which lets companies give test rides in vehicles without drivers. Under the terms of the program, Cruise may not charge passengers for the rides, and the company must submit quarterly reports to the CPUC about the vehicles’ operations.

Cruise has been testing its driverless vehicles in San Francisco, and last month applied for a permit that will allow the company to charge for autonomous rides and deliveries in the area. The company unveiled its Cruise Origin, a prototype vehicle without a steering wheel, pedals, or any controls typically associated with human driving last year. It’s slated to begin production at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant starting in early 2023. Currently, most of Cruise’s driverless test vehicles are Chevrolet Bolt EVs.

In addition to Cruise, seven other companies, which include Google spinoff Waymo, Zoox, owned by Amazon, and Aurora, have CPUC permits to test driverless vehicles on roads in California, but only Cruise is permitted to provide rides to passengers without a driver on board.

In California, companies need permits from both the CPUC and the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to test driverless vehicles (and eventually, to get the vehicles on the road with passengers). A total of 55 companies have active permits from the DMV to test driverless vehicles in California, including Cruise, but so far Nuro is the only company to receive a deployment permit from the DMV that allows it to operate its autonomous vehicles in California commercially. That deployment permit doesn’t allow Nuro to transport passengers, however.

In January, Microsoft announced a long-term strategic partnership with Cruise, and said it was joining a $2 billion funding round that pushed Cruise’s valuation to $30 billion.

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